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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023
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New, Larger Jetta Doesn’t Drive With the Old Spunk

Last year, Volkswagen rolled out an all-new Jetta. For the 2006 model year, the company rolls out the Jetta’s most important line extension, the GLI.

The sporty sedan has been popular with buyers ranging from college students to mid-level executives who want a German performance sedan at a bargain price.

The 2006 GLI features a sports suspension, robust engine and design tweaks to give it an edgy appearance. The GLI still registers as a compact automobile, but the size has been stretched. Passenger volume now hits 91 cubic feet and the trunk registers a generous 16 cubit feet.

Taken all in all, the new GLI is more substantial and displays significantly better build quality. But I have one caveat. The larger GLI just doesn’t seem as agile and fun to drive as its predecessor. Somehow it has been transformed from a shifty tailback to a tight end.

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From the perspective of its status as a sports sedan, the most impressive aspect of the GLI is its new engine and DGS automatic transmission. The small, two-liter engine features a lightweight turbocharger and direct fuel injection.

Direct injection is a new technology that increases power, while decreasing fuel consumption and emissions through the precise metering and delivery of fuel to the combustion chamber. Full engine torque is accessible at very low engine speeds, which means you get an immediate blast of power for acceleration or passing. According to Volkswagen, the GLI will zip to 60 miles per hour in less than seven seconds with a top speed electronically limited to 130 mph in the U.S.

Volkswagen’s DSG transmission is a member of a new breed of automatics that incorporate a direct-shift design to allow fully automatic or manual gear changes using a twin-clutch, wet-plate design to eliminate the power interruption associated with conventional manual gear changes. The upside is lightning-fast action. The downside is that the gear changes are sometimes abrupt.

Despite its advanced four-link rear suspension and 17-inch wheels with performance tires, I was disappointed in the GLI’s handling. The turn-in lacked precision and the steering feedback just didn’t seem up to sports-sedan status. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t pick the GLI for a weekend of spirited driving in the country, although as a powerful general-purpose sedan it should serve quite well.

Appearance counts for a whole lot in the sports sedan market and the GLI has design modifications that include blue-tinted windows, a black honeycomb mesh grille with a red surround strip. Whatever the inspiration behind the black honeycomb grille, in execution it looks, well, cheap and insubstantial.

All in all, I don’t find the front-end treatment of the GLI very impressive or particularly sporty. Massive 18-inch wheels and tires are an option to further set the GLI apart in terms of performance and appearance.

The GLI gets performance-oriented interior changes including metal foot pedals and trim pieces, sport seats and a hunky three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel. Volkswagen has always had excellent seats, particularly at its price point and the seats in the GLI deliver a firm, but well-supported and comfortable ride.

The steering wheel hosts controls for audio and telephone as well as paddle shifters for manual operation of the direct-shift automatic transmission. The GLI’s interior generally has taken a step up in appearance and quality and the gauges and controls are easily accessed.

The GLI brings some interesting standard equipment to the party as well. Of most interest is automatic leveling high-intensity gas-discharge Xenon headlights with built-in washers and halogen projector lens fog lights.

Available options include automatic dual-zone climate control, which was a welcome addition to the test GLI.

Most manufacturers are installing a high-content level of safety equipment as standard equipment and Volkswagen is no exception. Standard safety equipment in the GLI includes front- and side-impact air bags as well as side-curtain airbags that extend to project both front and rear seat passengers.

Rear passenger side-impact airbags are an option usually available only on high-end sedans and are recommended for buyers with families. Further safety enhancements include Volkswagen’s proprietary Electronic Stabilization Program (yaw control) to help the driver avoid spinouts and electronic brake force distribution to ensure straight and controlled braking.


Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at cordellkoland@mac.com.


Volkswagen GLI

Price as tested: $29,230.

Engine:

Type: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cyl.

Horsepower: 200 @ 5,500 rpm.

Torque: 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1,800 rpm.

Fuel economy, automatic transmission

City: 25 mpg.

Highway: & #173; 31 mpg.

Curb weight: 3,32lbs.

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